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Voices: Liz Cramer, Chief Post-Acute Care Strategist, CDW

This article is sponsored by CDW Healthcare. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Liz Cramer, who recently joined CDW as Chief Post-Acute Care Strategist. With a background in physical therapy across many post-acute settings, Cramer applies her vast industry knowledge to assist customers in making technology decisions that help them address today’s challenges, as well as those expected in the near and long term.

Senior Housing News: You recently joined CDW with a background from the provider side. How do you draw from your past experience in your new role with CDW?

Liz Cramer: I started my career as a physical therapist assistant, and was really lucky to have great mentors who helped me learn about the business and grow as a clinician and a leader. I have primarily been on the operations side, so I’ve been able to get a vast understanding of the industry’s payment systems — on both the senior care and post-acute care side.

With this experience, I understand the customers — whether it be skilled nursing, assisted living, independent living or home health providers — and how technology can help them with their care efficiencies, resident and staff experiences. I understand where they’re coming from when they start looking for solutions to try and enhance their processes.

What are some of your key priorities as you become more and more underway in your new role?

Cramer: Initially, my priorities are around promoting to the industry what CDW Healthcare can help them with. The last 18 months have been really rough on everyone in health care, as you know, but staffing has been a huge issue, especially in the senior care space and in post-acute care. We are all trying to figure out what that new norm is going to look like, and what the priorities are for those owners and operators.

There’s a lot of talk now, for example, about private rooms versus going back to double occupancy. How does that factor in when census is historically low, and how can we be a partner for those providers in the future?

Technology isn’t going to fix everything in health care, but it will help the industry move in the right direction. There are so many great solutions out there, and my goal in 2022 is to help current and future customers understand how CDW Healthcare can assist them as we see this need for technology grow.

There have been significant challenges, but also lots of new opportunities, especially relating to tech. Is there anything else from the provider side that you see as coming in handy as you guide senior living providers going forward?

Cramer: I think it helps to have someone who can sit down with them and knows their struggles firsthand. I’ve worked very closely with facilities that have been short-staffed. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been short-staffed on the therapy side, or in situations where censuses are low and I have sent staff home because there’s not enough treatment work for them. I understand that struggle as a provider and operator.

I’ve also worked very closely with facilities to improve quality measures and decrease hospital readmission rates. When we sit down to talk with them about potential options, whether it be current customers or potential customers, I believe they’re not just going to see CDW as a technology company, but they’re also going to see us as an advisor and partner moving into the future.

What are some of the unique challenges you’re seeing right now among senior living operators? In addition to staffing challenges, what else are you seeing as resulting from the pandemic?

Cramer: Staffing and census are still major concerns in the industry right now. It’s hard for providers to think about anything else other than finding staff to take care of their residents and getting residents or patients into their facilities.

There is also a lot of activity in mergers and acquisitions. When that happens, there are typically some leadership changes, which of course means that plans change. Sometimes that causes projects to slow a little bit or speed up dramatically. We have to adjust accordingly, based on what’s happening.

The pandemic led to some positives for technology, especially for those advocating for technology who for the first time had a seat at the table. What’s the biggest change that you’ve seen with respect to that shift in technology adoption? Do you think the landscape has changed forever or do you think that this is a blip relative to the pandemic?

Cramer: I believe the landscape has definitely changed, and I think it will forever be changed. As I said before, we’re still figuring out what that new norm is going to be in the industry. From a budget standpoint, most providers knew prior to COVID they needed to update their infrastructure, and they needed better support for the residents and staff when it came to networks and devices, but it really wasn’t at the top of their to-do list.

When everything started shutting down during the pandemic, providers had to quickly figure out how they were going to keep residents connected to family and friends because they weren’t able to come and go as before. We also had enhanced infection control processes for employees who were sharing devices. Many have a central location for CNAs and nursing staff to provide documentation, so how could we make sure those things stayed safe from an infection control standpoint?

Some of the big changes we’re seeing are with technology budgets. They’re continuing to grow and becoming more focused as part of the overall budget process. We’re seeing some of our current customers saying, “Okay, as we get ready for 2022, we really need to look at our tech budgets and how we can enhance them, in case something like this happens again.”

CDW and Senior Housing News recently co-hosted a series of technology roundtables, and we talked with many professionals in the industry about their tech planning and investing. A lot of them shared that they have more budget than they’ve had before, but the priorities have changed and a lot of them are really urgent.

Do you have any advice for those providers as they’re making a case for their technology investment or going to their leadership and advocating for technology in their communities?

Cramer: My advice would be to sit down — whether with the leadership group if you have an innovation committee, or technology committee within your campus or company — and make a plan and a business case for what you want to accomplish. A lot of the budgets have been adjusted because of the pandemic, as an emergency shift. It wasn’t necessarily, “Oh yes, we need to do this…” It was more, “We have this emergency and we need to find this budget and make it happen.”

Sitting down and making that plan and business case for what you want to accomplish in 2022 and even for the next five to 10 years is key right now.

By 2030, all the baby boomers are going to be 65-plus years old, and 2030 is not that far away. This age group that is moving into our independent and assisted living communities is going to expect the same access to technology that they had at home. They’re going to want fast Wi-Fi. They’re going to want voice-activated devices. They’re not going to want to have to call down to a desk to make a maintenance request, or to find out the activities or the menu for the day. They’re going to want to be able to ask Alexa or ask Google about those things.

They’re also coming in with more devices. My parents are in their late 60s, close to 70, and they both have smartphones, iPads and laptops. That age group coming in is going to bring a minimum of four or five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Communities have to look at their technology budget and the amount of devices that will be on campus five and 10 years down the road.

Have you encountered any surprises since you began to learn more about the industry from the technology perspective? Senior living is often criticized for not having adopted technology as fast as some of its other health care counterparts.

Cramer: The biggest surprise is how much technology is out there for the senior industry, and how much is out there to help providers be more operationally efficient when they’re providing care. Keeping residents and patients more engaged, in turn, gives them a better experience. The expectation when you go to the hospital or an acute setting is that the provider is going to have the latest technology. That’s not necessarily the case in senior care, but I think that’s starting to shift. It’s great to see that there is so much out there.

What are you most looking forward to, with respect to the senior living industry, looking ahead to 2O22 and beyond?

Cramer: Although the industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s very resilient. Many providers have taken this opportunity to implement technology to help keep residents connected and staff safe and more operationally efficient. I’m really excited to see how technology continues to grow in the senior market.

Artificial intelligence to assist with fall prevention, smart homes and robotics are all being asked about more and more. We’re still always going to need that human interaction, but every day we’re finding new ways to use technology to be more efficient and help residents live longer independently.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CDW is a leading multi-brand technology solutions provider to business, government, education and healthcare customers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Our broad array of offerings range from hardware and software to integrated IT solutions such as security, cloud, data center and networking. Learn more at cdw.com.

The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact sales@agingmedia.com

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